As the news of Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth's death spread today, words of condolence and reflections on Shuttlesworth's legacy poured in from around the nation.
President Obama issued a statement on Wednesday afternoon about Shuttlesworth's death and the impact he had in American history.
"Michelle and I were saddened to hear about the passing of Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth today. As one of the founders of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Reverend Shuttlesworth dedicated his life to advancing the cause of justice for all Americans. He was a testament to the strength of the human spirit. And today we stand on his shoulders, and the shoulders of all those who marched and sat and lifted their voices to help perfect our union," Obama said.
In his statement, Obama also recalled a time that he wheeled the aging reverend across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., the site of the Bloody Sunday attacks during the 1965 civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery.
"I will never forget having the opportunity several years ago to push Reverend Shuttlesworth in his wheelchair across the Edmund Pettus Bridge – a symbol of the sacrifices that he and so many others made in the name of equality. America owes Reverend Shuttlesworth a debt of gratitude, and our thoughts and prayers are with his wife, Sephira, and their family, friends and loved ones," Obama said in the release.
Dr. Lawrence Pijeaux, President and CEO of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, expressed his sadness soon after hearing of Shuttlesworth's passing on Wednesday morning.
"We have lost a true American hero," Pijeaux said in a phone interview with Fox 6. Pijeaux described Shuttlesworth as a mentor and "a man whose efforts during the 50's and 60's still have a positive impact on human relations around the world."
Pijeaux spoke about Shuttlesworth's legacy at a press conference held at the BCRI at 4 p.m. Wednesday.
Governor Robert Bentley ordered that all flags on state government buildings be flown at half-mast in Shuttlesworth's memory. The flags will remain lowered until sunset on the day of Shuttlesworth's burial. Bentley issued the following statement in response:
"I was saddened to hear of the passing of Fred Shuttleworth this morning. He was a true pioneer for civil rights and a champion for equality among all Alabamians. Today, I ask that all Alabamians join me in honoring his memory," Gov. Bentley said. "Rev. Shuttlesworth is an Alabama treasure who positively impacted the lives of many Alabamians. Dianne and I extend our deepest sympathies to his family."
Birmingham Mayor William Bell issued the following statement in response to Shuttlesworth's death:
"We are saddened at the passing of Dr. Shuttlesworth and extend our deepest condolences to his family. Dr. Shuttlesworth means so much to this City and his legacy will continue for generations to come," Bell said.
Mayor Bell ordered all flags on city buildings in Birmingham be lowered to half mast in Shuttlesworth's honor. The flags will remain at half mast until after his funeral.
Alabama Congresswoman Terri Sewell also sent a statement after hearing of Shuttlesworth's death.
"Today we mourn the loss of a true soldier for equality. Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth was a fearless freedom fighter and tenacious Civil Rights leader. I am deeply saddened by his passing today," Congresswoman Sewell said.
"Throughout his life, Reverend Shuttlesworth fought racism and injustice and worked tirelessly for equal rights. His efforts alongside Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. paved the way for the passage of the Civil Rights Act and for America to live up to its ideals of democracy and equality. Over the years, he built a well-deserved reputation as an outspoken equality activist and distinguished community leader. His achievements will leave an indelible mark on the 7th Congressional District, the State of Alabama and the nation and will continue to inspire people to stand up for what they believe in for many years to come.
I know that I stand on the shoulders of Civil Rights icons like Reverend Shuttlesworth. It was the sacrifices and courage of Reverend Shuttlesworth and so many others that forged the path for me to be elected Alabama's first African American Congresswoman, and for that I am eternally grateful," Sewell said.
U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) gave a statement of response as well:
"The death of Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth marks yet another sad passing of a historic figure in the civil rights movement. Rev. Shuttlesworth served as a minister at Bethel Baptist Church in Birmingham from 1953 to 1961, which was a tumultuous time in Birmingham's integration efforts. He founded the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights in 1956, and often found himself in life-threatening situations as a result of his stand for equal rights. All of this occurred during a period when America and the South made an historic change in policies that had discriminated against fellow citizens as a result of their race. Throughout it all, Rev. Shuttlesworth remained a stalwart supporter for individual rights and freedoms for African-Americans. I know he took great satisfaction as he was able to see the great progress his work helped bring about. Mary and I extend our deepest sympathies and prayers to his family."
Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said she was deeply saddened by the death of a man she called a close family friend and the "heart and soul" of the civil rights movement.
"His unique and direct style of leadership made him a giant among men, as he passionately advocated on behalf of those whose voices could not be heard. He lead a life of conviction and sought to bring equality to those segregated by racism, and opportunity to those humbled by poverty.
America is indebted to him and his family for their sacrifice and contributions to our nation. Reverend Shuttlesworth was an iconic man who touched countless lives, including my own. He will be dearly missed. I send my condolences and love to his family and wife Sephira," Rice said in a release.
Shuttlesworth's four children sent a message of thanks for the city of Birmingham and the people who cared for their father in his final days. His children Patricia Massengill, Ruby Bester, Fred. Shuttlesworth, Jr. and Dr. Carolyn Shuttlesworth gave the following statement:
"Thank you to the city of Birmingham that loved and cared for our dad. We appreciate how Birmingham has welcomed and loved him. We are especially grateful to Civic Center Nursing Home, Saint Martin in the Pines, Baptist Princeton, St. Vincent's and Trinity Hospitals. We thank anyone who has done anything and shown love and support, we are eternally grateful.
"We would also like to thank Drake University Hospital, Dr. Tew and Dr. Spore, Heartland of Mederia Nursing Home and Drake Rehabilitation Center, Jewish Hospital and University Hospitals in Cincinnati. We also thank all minister, friends and members of Greater New Light Baptist Church who travelled from Cincinnati to Birmingham to visit our dad."
"From this point, we will continue to do everything in love."
Fred Shuttlesworth, Jr. added, "Growing up he was Batman, Superman. Daddy was a Super hero to me. I realized everybody else felt the same way."
Sephira Bailey Shuttlesworth, Rev. Shuttlesworth's widow, gave a statement expressing thanks to the city of Birmingham for being their hometown in Shuttlesworth's last few years.
"Throughout the 25 years that I've known Fred Shuttlesworth, he told it to me time and time again that although he traveled the world over, there was no city he loved more than Birmingham. Prior to the onset of his illness in the fall of 2007, we were planning to retire to Birmingham. I'm grieving in ways that I have never known before and yet I'm experiencing extraordinatory joy that comes from the knowledge that he has been received unto the Lord where his prophet's reward awaits. I would like to thank Birmingham once again for receiving us unto herself in 2008 and we are grateful for all of the support and love shown us since he came back home to the Magic City," Sephira Shuttlesworth said.
Reverend Al Sharpton, President of the National Action Network, gave the following statement:
"Fred Shuttlesworth was as important as anyone in American History. It would not have been a Civil Rights Movement had it not been for Fred Shuttlesworth. Others got the credit, but he did the work. We must stand with his family at this time and make sure history records the name of Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth forever."
Diane Nash, Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and staff member, Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) issued the following reflection on Rev. Shuttlesworth:
"I am so blessed to have known Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth.
"I first 'met' him when I telephoned him in 1961 to tell him that members of the Nashville nonviolent movement were going to continue the Freedom Ride and to ask for his help. After satisfying himself that we understood how dangerous it was, he was "in" and proceeded to help and participate unreservedly.
"Fred Shuttlesworth personified courage, strength and thoughtful good judgment. He was unwavering in his commitment to ending segregation.
"His transition leaves me with loss and sadness, but with gratitude for his having come this way. His spirit and the legacy of his life will remain with us.
"My heartfelt condolences to Mrs. Shuttlesworth and the family."
Dr. Otis Moss, Jr., Olivet Institutional Baptist Church in Cleveland, Ohio gave the following statement in response to Shuttlesworth's passing:
"Rev. F.L. Shuttlesworth was one of God's most courageous and faithful, non-violent warriors. His friendship and leadership I have personally known and been inspired by for more than 50 years. His vision and insight in the founding of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights played a pivotal role in changing not only Birmingham and Alabama but this entire nation.
When he visited Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and SCLC to join him in the Birmingham struggle in 1963, the foundation of a March on Washington and the Civil Rights Bill was firmly established. He goes to his grave and into eternity bearing the scars inflicted by struggle and carries in his history the eternal legacy of a victorious life.
"We are eternally indebted to him for his service, suffering, and sacrifices—and must forever thank God for his life."
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